“Slice of life” refers to a short story (or a narrative poem) that contains a very short sequence of events
. The term is actually a metaphor; imagine a very sharp knife actually cutting a tiny and very thin slice from the whole of a person’s experiences. That little section, in a writer’s hands, would be a slice of life story.
The Writing Challenge is tailor-made for slice of life stories. How many of us have bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have enough words to fully develop our entries? One solution is to write a slice of life. In such a story, you don’t have to worry about extensive plot development, and there’s little or no exposition. You can forget all of my nifty lessons on conflict—there’s not much of that either (however, see point #4 below).
So…if there’s no plot to speak of, no exposition, little conflict, no resolution—what’s in a slice of life? Well, there’s a character, obviously…maybe two, but no more than that. So if you write a slice of life, you’ll definitely want to work on characterization. Ask yourself—what happened in this particular moment that I can use to show my reader what my character is like?
A slice of life story is also a fine place to work on atmosphere, but don’t spend the whole story describing the draperies. It’s a slice of life
, after all.
How much time should a slice of life cover? Well, there’s no hard-and-fast rule. It could be mere seconds, or up to several minutes or hours, or even a day. Much more than that, however, and it’s not a slice any more—it’s the whole pizza.
As far as what goes into a slice of life story…that’s as varied as life itself. It could be something as simple as your main character watching a bird land at his windowsill. The defining criteria:
1. Have a reason
for choosing that moment. It should shine a light, somehow, on your character’s soul.
2. Make it compelling reading. If you do choose to write about your character watching a bird, it should be a really
interesting bird (or the actions of the fellow watching it should be).
3. If your slice of life is a dialogue between two characters—elevate it beyond ordinary conversation somehow. I’ve read lots
of pieces that consist entirely of conversations between two characters, lasting only a few minutes in real time…but they simply haven’t pulled me in. They’re ordinary. I have hundreds of conversations every day, but few (if any) of them would make compelling reading.
4. Hint at some conflict. You might hint at the origins of a conflict, or at the resolution of an implied conflict—in my opinion, the best stories have at least a smidgeon of conflict. I’ve said it before—conflict pulls your reader into the story.
An example of a slice of life in literature is Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners
. Nothing much happens here: A traveler knocks on a door a few times, his horse stomps its feet, some ghosts watch from a window, the traveler rides away. But it’s a masterpiece of mood, and it’s well worth reading.
Sheri Gordon’s challenge entry Her Tree
is another lovely slice of life. Again, there’s not much action: An old lady listens to the sounds of a tree being felled. Then she hears different sounds. And that’s it—except there’s so much more than that! Read it—you won’t be sorry.
Finally, my story Little One, Relax
covers the events in one day of a foster mother and her child. All ordinary events—getting dressed, eating lunch, playing outside—but they reveal my protagonist’s character. Homework: Discuss something I’ve written in this lesson.
OR link to a slice of life story. If you link, please tell us about your story? Why did you write it? What do you like about it?
I’m nearly at the end of my alphabetical list of terms. A few of you have given me some suggestions on what to do next, and I’m still mulling those over. But I’d welcome additional suggestions, please.Next week: Stream of Consciousness